Modern Wheat Breeding Practices Do Not Contribute to Gluten Toxicity

Researchers have made some new wheat gluten discoveries which might eventually help patients with celiac disease. The team tested a hypothesis that blames modern wheat cultivating methods for the increase in gluten sensitivities and celiac disease diagnoses. The researchers then analyzed the compounds found in wheat to determine which compounds were contributing to dangerous immune reactions in celiac patients. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Food Chemistry.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease heavily linked to genetic factors. Patients with the disease have an increased sensitivity to wheat gluten and consumption causes an exaggerated immune response. Over time, these reactions lead to serious inflammation and damage to the small intestine. In addition to other medical problems, this can cause malnutrition by making it harder for the patient’s body to absorb certain nutrients. There is no cure for celiac disease and patients must maintain a gluten-free diet to avoid complications. Celiac disease cases have been on the rise recently, leading some experts to suggest that modern wheat breeding methods have made wheat products more toxic.

A team of scientists at the Experimental Station at the Agronomic, Food and Biosystems School of Madrid studied wheat varieties that had been cultivated in a number of different countries. The team focused on the concentration of gliadins, proteins found in gluten that are generally thought to be the most toxic to celiac patients. They found that concentrations varied greatly between different wheat varieties, regardless of breeding practices. Primitive cultivars, such as spelt, were no less toxic than modern wheat crops. In fact, some of these older crops were far more toxic to celiac patients when compared to modern wheat varieties.

The team’s findings dispel a myth that human breeding practices have made wheat crops increasingly toxic over time, leading to more patients with celiac disease. The team’s analysis did, however, identify the most toxic compounds and this may lead to improved gluten-free products.


Ribeiro et al. New insights into wheat toxicity: Breeding did not seem to contribute to a prevalence of potential celiac disease’s immunostimulatory epitopes. Food Chemistry (2016).

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